June 14, 2021
A couple of days ago, I happened to find myself a lane over and behind a compact car that sported two identical bumper stickers which read: “All Religions Suck.” I guess the driver wanted to make her or his point twice. I wished at that moment that I could have stopped the car and gone over to the driver and had a conversation about the bumper stickers. What was the story, the experience, that led this person to so emphatically pronounce this opinion? All religions suck? Not, perhaps, just a few? But the traffic light changed, the car turned off the main road, and I am stuck wondering, days later, about those bumper stickers.
Having been raised in a dogmatic Christian Church which eventually I left, I can understand how a person can be wounded by religion. I still fight that old, ingrained guilt instinct. But I didn’t leave religion; I moved on to something more in line with the Christ as my soul understands the Christ to be. Having pastored churches for almost twenty years, I can understand why someone would resist the autocratic system of so many of our denominations, along with the rules that sometimes make quite clear who is “in” and who is “out.” I understand religion’s insider lingo and have worked to make the language more welcoming, clear, and inclusive. I’ve seen, and even been part of, the “raw meat” work of institutionalized religion, aware that sometimes what we do doesn’t match what we say we believe. Religion is, after all, a human product and therefore flawed, no matter whose religion it is.
But I wonder if it all sucks?
Years ago, when I was listening for the Spirit to prompt me to a new place of worship, my husband and I happened to walk into a church where the pastor was preaching on the difference between The Law and Love. I knew plenty about The Law, so I was interested in hearing what he had to said. He told a personal story about being raised in a church that relied on The Law, and that when his parents were divorced in the 1940’s because of his father’s alcoholism, his mother, who had custody of the children, was not longer allowed to receive communion. Divorce was a sin, no matter what. Yet every Sunday his mother took her two sons to that same church, dropped them off for worship, sat in her car and prayed until they were through, at a time when she most needed her faith community. The pastor vividly remembered all of this—the shame, the embarrassment, the exclusion, the indifference of his church, the consequences of The Law. Yes, religion sucked at the time for him and made such an impact on him that he went to seminary in the same denomination, was ordained, and spent his vocation teaching about practicing Love over The Law, about how Love embraces those who are wounded, about how Love includes, not excludes, about how Love offers a mercy so deep and so wide that nothing we do can ever break that bond. His message resonated with me and my own experiences and changed me that day. We joined that particular church, and ten years later, I found myself called into ministry where I preached—and still preach—Love. The Law has its place, but when we idolize it over God, we lose Love.
I wish I could have listened to that driver’s story. I suspect it might be very similar to this pastor’s experience. I wish for so many people that religion didn’t suck, but that within religion they might find an opening, a thin space, that leads them to experience being loved, just as they are, just because they are.
We all come from the same Divine Source, a source of Love. When we look at what wounds us or offends us about religion, it usually has to do with how we, humans, have twisted and tried to control the gift given so freely to us because it is so hard for us to love. What I am invited to do is to continue to believe in and practice Love where I can, as I can, and to tell anyone who comes along this blog that you, too, are loved. Don’t let religion tell you otherwise. Blessings to you ~ Rosemary firstname.lastname@example.org